Laurier forfeit: who’s to blame?

Later on today, David Montoya will make the same 40-minute drive he’s made every day this semester. He’ll leave his teaching job in Milton and travel to Waterloo to attend his classes. Only now when he goes to football practice he won’t be in the action, he’ll instead be stuck on the sidelines.

On Friday night, the questions surrounding the eligibility of the 27-year-old defensive end were finally answered as the Sports Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) ruled Montoya ineligible. The SDRCC’s ruling upholds a decision made by a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) committee two weeks ago and as a result the Golden Hawks football team had to forfeit their week three win over the University of Toronto and Montoya’s playing career is over.

“Playing football was a big part of the reason I came back to Laurier and to have that taken away is incredibly frustrating,” said Montoya. “But it didn’t only end up hurting me, it ended up hurting the team and for the team to be put in that situation because of an act of possible negligence is completely unfair.”

Montoya was ruled to be in violation of a rule that was instituted by the CIS this past summer, which states that football players must complete their five years of eligibility within seven years of their high school graduation.

However, he had originally registered at Laurier in January, which would have put him on the Hawks’ 2009-10 eligibility certificate, a requirement to qualify as an exception to the new CIS rule.

However, due to his responsibilities as a high school teacher and coach, Montoya deferred his studies to the fall, six months before the rule was instituted.

“[Laurier’s athletics department] told me I would be able to play if I came in September and unfortunately that ended up being the difference,” said Montoya. “I’m really angry with the people that counseled me, but in fairness to them, they believed that what they were telling me was right.”

According to Laurier athletics director Peter Baxter, the rule had an ambiguous explanation and could have been interpreted in such a way that would make Montoya an exception.

“The implementation process was horrible,” said Baxter. “There was no clarification prior to the season as far as the interpretation of the rule and there was a lot of confusion amongst coaches and athletics directors as late as August.”

Baxter went on to mention that in the early stages of the rule the CIS coaches association had intended on a grandfather clause which would have made the rule only apply to athletes starting university in 2010-11, which would have made Montoya eligible. However, in April the CIS added the stipulation that involved the eligibility certificate without consulting the league’s athletics directors.

Montoya, meanwhile, questions why there wasn’t more done about this issue prior to the season.

“The CIS decides to implement this new rule in July and I don’t even know about it until it’s brought up to me three games into the season,” he said. “It’s embarrassing for Laurier and it’s embarrassing for the CIS… The CIS implemented the rule retroactively and that was wrong, but Laurier was negligent in reading the rule properly and getting clarification.”

According to Baxter, nine schools and 14 athletes from across the CIS have been affected by this rule, which in his view signals a problem with the way it was implemented.

“On our end, we have to take responsibility for not checking before the season,” he said. “But when nine schools are calling [the CIS] with problems it means something’s wrong… In my opinion the implementation of this rule didn’t go along with one of the most important principles of the CIS, which is acting in the best interests of our student-athletes.”